Q&A: Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan

Ira Kaplan (far right) of Yo La Tengo

This is your first time not only playing Las Vegas, but also Nevada, right?

Yes and yes.

Are there many other states you’ve never played?

It’s on a short list. We have never left the continental United States. And Wyoming has yet to be graced with our special style. And I know there’s a couple others in there.

Any particular reason you’ve never played Vegas?

I think one would really have to question our booking agents about that. It’s true, I guess, we have not gotten on the phone and said, “Get me Vegas.” But it’s odd. Alaska and Hawaii, you can understand more readily. In the case of Las Vegas, we’ve never even driven through it. Georgia changed planes there. James lived there when he was a member of Christmas. But I have never set foot there.

Do you have big plans for your Vegas visit?

As is frequently the case, I try not to have too many preconceptions, especially because you can really be barraged with them when it comes to Las Vegas. So we’ll just kind of figure it out when we get there.

Will you be here for the whole event?

Yes. Sometimes it’s appropriate to just fly in and out, but it also becomes a lot of work to do that. It’s less work-intensive this way.

What do you think of a Vegas casino as the host site?

What a creative way of dealing with the fact that the three people running [Matador] live in different cities—find a neutral ground.

Yo La Tengo has been on Matador for 17 years. What’s kept you there so long?

It’s a hard question to answer without resorting to clichés. Most of the labels that preceded them are not around anymore. Matador pointed the way to Merge for how to combine a love of music with some notion of keeping a business together, rather than it being just a label that kind of does it for a little while and flames out because it really never gave a moment’s thought to running a business. But it’s not like you can isolate a moment where Matador started signing groups because those groups would make them a trillion dollars even if the music did nothing for them.

How important has that label stability been for Yo La Tengo?

We’ve assumed that other possibilities were out there if we looked for them, but we like the stability, we like building on relationships, we like having people there who know us and have worked with us. So we’ve been very happy to be at the label.

Stephen Malkmus spoke of a kinship with the people who run the label and the other bands on the roster. Do you agree that there’s a certain sense of Matador community?

Yeah, I think that’s certainly one of its appeals, that there’s a human face to it, people that you look forward to hearing from, as opposed to letting the machine pick up and getting back to them when you can. Definitely. And if I’ve learned anything in all these years in the music business, it’s that I haven’t gotten where I am today by disagreeing with Stephen Malkmus.

Do you have some personal favorite Matador bands?

I don’t know if it’s just my contrary nature, but it’s hard not to look at this festival and start thinking about other bands that are missing, especially smaller bands, like Christmas. The album that Matador put out by Christmas [Vortex] is one of my favorites. It would be really great if Barbara Manning were at this, Run On is a personal favorite of ours. And Chain Gang is an amazing group.

Anyone you’re particularly excited to see at this festival?

That’s an easy answer for me anytime we’re playing someplace The Clean are playing.

I was having trouble figuring out what, if anything, they released on Matador ...

I don’t ever look gift shows by The Clean in the mouth.

In an interview you did with the A.V. Club last year, you said you consider Painful to be the beginning of the current Yo La Tengo. Is it coincidence that album also marks the start of the band’s association with Matador?

When we were working on that record we felt within the band that we were doing something better than what we had done before and I think it made us extra interested to be on Matador. We thought we might have a better chance of being heard if we were.

What kind of a set to do you have planned for Matador at 21?

It’s still a set in progress. We haven’t figured it out yet. We’ve been thinking about it, but we have a whole week to decide. We’ll plan it before we get onstage.

What else are you guys up to?

The thing we’re mostly working on is setting up our Hanukkah shows.

You guys should do that in Vegas one year. That would make about as much sense as having the Matador festival here.

People have suggested [doing it somewhere else], people who can’t get here. But it’s hard to imagine doing it anywhere else but our backyard.

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Spencer Patterson

Spencer Patterson is the Editor of Las Vegas Weekly, having previously served as Managing Editor, Arts & Entertainment Editor and ...

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